Jane Wood: Rise to the challenge

2016 will not be regarded as a vintage year for its impact on levels of public trust in business.

Jane Wood of Business in the Community Scotland looks at the launch of SNAP-RB. 
Picture: Gordon Terris/The Herald
Jane Wood of Business in the Community Scotland looks at the launch of SNAP-RB. Picture: Gordon Terris/The Herald 18/11/15

Whether it is through coverage of the demise of BHS, or continuing operations at Sports Direct, time and again our daily headlines have been filled with revelations and opinions that highlight the growing divergence between some past or current business standards and wider society’s priorities.

All too often, naked self-interest has overwhelmed the wider purpose of economic activity, and the significant benefits that can be delivered by commercial success have been crowded out by a declining bond of trust between ordinary people and business operations.

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It has not made for pleasant viewing for those of us who, like me, believe and experience daily the power that business can utilise for social good.

Adam Smith’s lesser known text, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, emphasised the need for shared moral behaviour as a backbone of a functioning society.

It is a tome which has resonated with many recent authors and many have demonstrated the positive correlation between trust and economic growth showing that there is no required trade-off between community and efficiency and, those who pay attention to community become the most efficient of all.

All too often, individual and laudable attempts have been made to turn the tide, mostly through investing profit from commercial activities for social good.

Now, however, responsible corporate behaviour is not just a bolt-on to corporate messaging, for now, and for the future, it must be the very foundation of business practise.

So, far from being depressed at some of the coverage of business practise in 2016, I’m excited and invigorated by Business in the Community’s ability to convene the power of business for good, and the everyday examples of positive change that have crossed my desk this year.

Look at the impact businesses are having on the lives of children in our communities. For example, through our Paired Reading initiative, businesses and their employees are bringing joy and enlightenment to children across the country, through a regular commitment to share time with children in the school environment and read together on a one to one basis or in very small groups.

Through this tangible business commitment, young lives are being changed and some of our least confident young people are being transformed.

It’s just one of our initiatives that is convening the power of our members’ businesses to enhance young lives and build the successful and sustainable workforce for the future.

And because responsible business knows that disadvantage doesn’t end at the door to the classroom, our membership is delivering transformational change through our Ready for Work programme. By accessing this programme, businesses gain access to a fresh, new pool of committed, dedicated, ambitious employees – all to each company’s advantage and to society’s gain.

This unique and innovative approach to tackling severe social problems like homelessness enables each company to have a direct impact on real lives.

It’s that connection between corporate success and societal improvement that gives me greatest hope that the responsible business movement will broaden and flourish.

Excitingly, this month, we formally launch our Scottish National Action Plan for Responsible Business (SNAP-RB), which will provide the driving force behind the next decade of sustainable growth by enabling a new collaboration between government and business.

SNAP-RB is a plan for responsible business in Scotland, created by business, with government for society.

The fates of business and society are inextricably linked: one cannot succeed without the other. Businesses need to work together and with government to build safer, stronger, more resilient and therefore sustainable communities across Scotland.

These are the only communities which can in turn provide the resources, employees and customers necessary for sustainable businesses.

SNAP-RB brings together leaders of global, national and local businesses in Scotland with government, for the benefit of all in society.

This leadership group will change the landscape for everyone, addressing the root causes of issues which are slowing inclusive growth in Scotland.

We challenge your business to join us in creating better business for a better Scotland.

Jane Wood is managing director of Business in the Community Scotland.

This article first appears in the WINTER 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.